New Zealand is breaking new ground with a prime minister giving birth and her partner becoming a stay-at-home father
What lessons are there in this for our world? In my view, New Zealand is showing that no doors are closed to women, that having a baby while being prime minister can be managed, and that it’s acceptable for male partners to be full-time carers. This is very positive role modelling for the empowerment of women and for gender equality. – Helen Clark*
The birth of Jacinda Ardern’s baby is first and foremost a time of great happiness for Jacinda and her partner, Clarke Gayford. Their daughter is very much a wanted child for these happy parents.
But for the public in New Zealand and beyond, the new arrival in our country’s first family also has considerable significance.
Ardern becomes only the second serving second prime minister in history to give birth. As well, she is not married to her partner.
Conventional wisdom may have said that this combination of factors would not have been helpful to a political career at the highest level. Fortunately, that has proved to be wrong.
Ardern is a remarkable woman who crashes through glass ceilings with apparent ease. She became the leader of the New Zealand Labour party and of the opposition a mere seven weeks before last September’s general election. In that short time, she took her party out of a near-death zone of low polling to a highly credible election result, and then through the successful coalition negotiations which resulted in her becoming prime minister in October at the age of 37.
Ardern’s pregnancy came as a surprise to her and Gayford, but they took it in their stride. Arrangements were made for Ardern to work until very close to the birth, and then for the deputy prime minister to act in her place while she takes some six weeks maternity leave – although no one really believes that Ardern will be far from her phone! After that, Gayford takes over as primary carer for the foreseeable future.
These are the kinds of practical arrangements working women make the world over – the novelty here is that it is a prime minister who is making them. The signal this sends, however, is that this is life in the 21st century. Women can choose to combine family and career as Ardern has done.
For young women, the example Ardern is setting is an affirmation that they too can expect to have that choice. For young men, Gayford being the full-time carer of a baby sends a powerful message that they too can exercise that choice.
New Zealand is known for being, by and large, a socially progressive country. Ardern is its third female prime minister; it has had three female governors-general, and women have held significant positions across the public and private spheres. 125 years ago, it became the first country where women won the right to vote.